The notion that certain rights are guaranteed to citizens is being proven false every day. For instance, you have the First Amendment right to film police officers and other public officials, but it often takes an official policy change (usually prompted by lawsuits) before these public servants will begrudgingly respect that right.

You also have certain rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, but even these aren’t innate. You can’t simply remain silent while detained or arrested. You have to invoke these rights (often repeatedly) or risk having your silence (things you didn’t say) used against you.

In the case of photographing police officers, you’ll notice that activists and others who are recording will invoke their rights repeatedly. In some cases, this forces those being recorded to back off and reconsider their attempts to shut down recordings or seize cameras. It doesn’t always work but it works often enough to show that these police officers know you have this right but won’t respect it unless you invoke it.

Techdirt reader timlash sends in this video of two citizens filming a sally port (where prisoners are shuttled in and out of the courthouse) in Jacksonville, Florida. As is to be expected, police officers show up and try to shut down the recording of a public building from a public sidewalk. But the most amazing part of the video is the police officer’s statement in response to the cameraman invoking his rights.

“You must be doing something wrong if you invoke your rights.”

That’s the prevailing attitude. Invoke your Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and the government assumes you have something to hide. Invoke your Fifth Amendment rights and the government assumes you’ve committed a crime. Invoke your First Amendment right to record police officers and you’re told that you’re “obstructing” an investigation or creating a public disturbance.You have rights as an American citizen. They just won’t be respected by default. And when you invoke them, you’ll be treated as an activist (at best) or a criminal (at worst). The land of freedom has tipped the balance away from the citizens and towards the government — because whether we’re fighting terrorism, drugs or illegal immigration, the respect of citizens’ rights impedes the progress of the nation’s many “warriors.”


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